Sermon for Third Sunday in Advent, Dec. 16, 2012
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Philippians 4:4-7
Sermon Theme: “Rejoice in the Lord Always”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; Brokhof, Series C, Workbook; original ideas)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here it is already, the Third Sunday in Advent. This countdown time until Christmas provides us with multiple opportunities to become worried and dispirited. Rather than rejoicing in the days which lie ahead as we anticipate the God who is near, even “with us” in the Christ of Christmas, we become depressed over the Christ-MESS our culture has made of these holy days.
Rather than lifting up everything before God, with prayers of supplication and thanksgiving as Paul tells us to do in our text, we let down our spiritual guard and give in to worrying about which gift is best or which Christmas parties we should attend.
The Apostle Paul, though imprisoned as he wrote to his dear friends in Philippi, has something to say to men and women of the 21st Century as we worry our way roughshod through the Advent journey. Worry is a choice we make, and peace of God is a gift we forfeit when our lives are devoid of prayer.
“Have no anxiety about anything”, Paul says. Boy, he doesn’t know what those shopping malls in Houston are like this time of year, does he? You waited in the line at the store for two hours and the last doll your granddaughter wanted for Christmas was sold to the person ahead of you! You finally finished shopping for your oldest granddaughter, and now she tells you about that new electronic gadget she just has to have!
You invited your whole extended family for Christmas, including your mother’s elderly sisters, confident they all wouldn’t accept, and guess what? You just learned they are ALL coming! You went into the storage house for the Christmas decorations only to discover that you must have given most of them to the Crisis Center when you were in your charity frame of mind! “Do not be anxious about anything!” Oh, yeah!
Here’s what one lady wrote recently on her blog: “Christmas is coming and my stress level is so high that I feel as if I am going to lose it completely. I’m not even close to being ready for that one day when I wanted everything to be perfect.
I still have to write the yearly family letter to send with the Christmas cards that still have to be bought. I haven’t bought or wrapped a single gift. I’ve made only one batch of cookies, and they have already been eaten by my family. The house looks like a high wind has blown through it, leaving piles of newspapers, magazines, sales flyers, dirty clothes, and dust in its wake.
On top of that, my boss asked me if I would be able to work an extra day each week and an extra hour each day at time and a half pay and since I wanted to give my family what they wanted for Christmas, I said, “Yes.”
Christmas is coming so fast that I know I can’t waste a whole morning sitting in church and hearing the same message that I hear every Advent. And so I’ve convinced myself that God won’t care if I stay home to bake today. God won’t mind, especially if I turn on one of those television services, so I can listen and bake at the same time.
So I’m home baking, and guess what? I was so busy mixing three different kinds of cookies at the same time that I burned the first batch of refrigerated sugar cookies that I had made the night before.
I was just about to explode in anger when I heard the words the lectionary text on TV: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
That lady needed Paul’s text for today from Philippians really bad, and it’s great that she heard it in spite of playing hooky from church. All of us need it, too, and we are here to hear it.
Paul’s message for us in this short text is simply this: “There are three reasons a Christian can rejoice. One, he has the Lord, — the text says, “The Lord is at hand.” Two, he has confidence in God’s care, — the text says, “do not be anxious about anything.”
Three, he has the peace of God, — the text says, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Not the peace of MIND, not the peace of HEART, not the peace of MAN, but the peace of GOD! The divine peace passes all understanding, and keeps the heart and mind in Christ.
True joy can only come through this marvelous peace of God.
Doing worldly things brings us fun and superficial happiness, and when those worldly things are sinful, our conscience will goad us. God first wrote his Law upon the hearts of all people; that’s why we have a conscience and can feel guilt even though we are not believers. True joy is not possible without the peace of God.
God will not grant you that peace if you spend your life seeking fun and happiness by violating his commandments. That peace is important to have because it is a key to true joy. Let me try to explain this by a parable.
Catherine Marshall, in Stories for the Heart, tells the parable of a king who offered a prize for the picture best depicting peace. One contestant painted a picture of a mountain in the midst of a thunderstorm. A waterfall roared over the side of the mountain, and the king thought the picture was anything but peaceful. But then he noticed a bird sitting on a nest in a bush behind the waterfall.
The bird was perfectly at peace. This picture won the prize. When asked why, the king replied, “Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. That is the real meaning of peace.”
God likes to give us this peace, because it enables the joy God wants us to feel. Our text says that through prayer with thanksgiving, God gives us this peace. That God created us to experience the joy peace brings is seen in natural clues. Did you know that when you smile, your body releases chemicals that make you feel good? So the more you smile, the more you feel like smiling.
And the healing power of laughter has been well known since 1,000 B.C., the time of Solomon, who said in Proverbs 17:23, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” It is a medical fact that in general, cheerful people resist diseases better than gloomy ones.
This Advent, let your hearts say with St. Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.